Health of the Public Funding Helps Columbia University Educate Faculty about Community Health and Needs

Between 1993 and 1997, Columbia University, New York, established a partnership between Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and the Washington Heights-Inwood section of northern Manhattan, including an information office, a grand rounds program, and a visiting scholars program.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) national program Health of the Public: An Academic Challenge. Columbia was one of the initial Health of the Public projects, entering the program in 1987.

The focus of the project in the first five years was to establish a continuum of public health education in the dental, medical, and nursing school curricula.

With its second round of funding, Columbia sought to address faculty needs for information about the community and foster relationships with community leaders and health service agencies. The Washington Heights-Inwood population was 67 percent Latino, predominantly Dominican; 28 percent were covered by Medicaid, and about half had no medical insurance. Columbia Presbyterian was the sole hospital serving the area.

Key Results

A steering committee comprising representatives of the community and the university oversaw the Health of the Public Community/Medical Center Partnership, which had three elements:

  • A Community Information Office, which published Washington Heights/Inwood: The Health of a Community, a fact book with information on community demographics; death rates and causes of death; morbidity data; and health services access, utilization, and resources.

    The fact book and a slide show based on it were the subject of numerous community meetings that served both to inform community members and raise the HOP project's understanding of the community.

    The Community Information Office also launched a project to assist the Harlem Hospital Prevention Center, a collaborative project of the Columbia School of Public Health and the Harlem Hospital Center, in preparing and disseminating information on the health of the community in nearby Harlem.

    It also developed a program of joint research and faculty exchange with the schools of the health sciences at the national university in the Dominican Republic.
  • A Community Grand Rounds Program, in which six clinical departments completed grand rounds with Health of the Public themes during the second year of the project.

    The project team also surveyed all clinical departments to identify and highlight strengths and weaknesses in the broad area of grand rounds focused on public health issues. The team encouraged the departments to increase their offerings and to take advantage of campus resources for better integration of the clinical and public health aspects of the medical center.

    A bank of speakers from both within and outside the institution was presented to the clinical departments to encourage them to present further programs.
  • A Community Scholars Program that awarded six grants for summer study to nursing and public health students for research projects in Washington Heights-Inwood. Projects examined:
    • Medication adherence among homeless men with mental illness at a service site in the shadow of the hospital.
    • The under-reporting of domestic violence among battered women who filled out police reports.
    • The treatment practices of primary care practitioners in Washington Heights regarding asthma.
    • The relationship between social deterioration and drug-related offenses in Harlem.
    • Attitudes toward contraception, pregnancy, and HIV-related risk-taking among adolescent Dominican women.
    • The prevalence of diabetic ocular complications among nursing home residents.